When Huang Yu was left devastated following the death of his 2.5-year-old British shorthair named Garlic, he knew there was only one thing to do: make another one exactly the same.
Cue Sinogene, a Bejing-based pet cloning company that has already cloned more than 40 pet dogs, including the world’s first police pup. The somatic cell cloning techniques of animal species is a relatively new technology and certain challenges persist when it comes to making clones of felines. But they were up to the challenge.
“The reproductive and physiological characteristics of cats are different from those of most animals. Because cats are not spontaneous ovulation animals, they are one of the few ovulation-inducing animals,” said veterinarian Shi Zhensheng in a statement. “Their reproductive cycle is special and cloning techniques are difficult. The operation is cumbersome. This successful cultivation of cloned cats is one of the few successful cases in the world, marking China's major step in the field of cloning."
After nearly a year of effort, scientists were able to transfer an embryo to a surrogate cat who carried the developing kitten for 66 days. Garlic 2.0 was born on July 21, 2019 via natural birth and its genetics are entirely derived from the somatic cells of the now-deceased Garlic. Scientists say they have observed new Garlic for almost a month and report that it is in good physical condition and does not act differently than naturally bred kittens.
The procedure came at a price tag of at 250,000 yuan ($35,000), reports Agence France-Presse, but Yu says the money was worth having his fuzzy feline friend – or a version of it – back.
“Its name will continue to be called Garlic because in my heart I have always felt that the cloned kitten is the continuation of its life,” he said in an interview with the cloning company.
Though he will miss his original cat who died of an unnamed illness, a new cat with the same genes brings him comfort.
“I think that the original intention of each owner to clone their pets will be different. Each cat is an independent individual and has his own personality,” said Yu.
Last year, more than 22 million Chinese residents were raising some 40 million pet cats, according to the pet-cloning outfit. If even a fraction of them are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to have their fur babies replaced, then the pet cloning industry could soon be an especially lucrative one.
Just last year, Chinese biologists successfully cloned two macaque monkeys in what were the first true clones of a primate species. A lab in South Korea will also clone your dog for a cool $100,000. But the fun doesn’t stop there; researchers are attempting to clone a wooly mammoth while Siberian-based scientists are attempting to clone a 40,000-year-old preserved foal.
The cloning of domestic animals could have other applications as well, such as cloning endangered animals to increase and efficiently manage populations and curb diseases, according to Sinogene. The company plans to attempt cloning equine animals and homing pigeons in the near future.